Originally created 03/31/04

Serena wins on and off tennis court



KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. - Serena Williams believes she can regain her No. 1 ranking as the majors domo of women's tennis en route to becoming perhaps the greatest player ever. This she would do in her spare time - world domination of her sport listed under "hobbies."

Yes, she would master tennis as a part-timer, all the while actively engaged as a working actress and also as a fashion designer, not to mention whatever other glitter-glam challenges might pique her galloping interest.

In this belief, she is arrogant. Also accurate. Serena is that good. If you don't believe it, ask her.

At age 22, the younger of The Fabulous Williams Sisters annoys plenty of people, including other players, with her preening ego - embodied by the WTA media-guide reference to her as "self-described as very humorous with a great personality."

Her honesty is admirable. An occasional dash of humility would leaven the candor nicely and serve her well.

The thing is, raging success in every endeavor does not encourage one to be humble if one is not at all predisposed.

For this, Serena earns the ultimate respect:

She backs it up. She has a lot of nerve. And even more talent. She has gall, and game, in equally outrageous amounts.

Kid Williams continued to forge her comeback in the Nasdaq-100 tournament on Key Biscayne, dispatching American Jill Craybas on Tuesday, 6-0, 6-1. Serena's eight months of inactivity after knee surgery showed early; she left rust filings all over the court.

When she is injury-free, in her groove and paying any attention at all, she might be unbeatable.

Serena deigned to address the media nearly three hours after her match Sunday, a fashion designer unfashionably late, diva-late.

She wore a headband with "SERENA" written in rhinestones.

"I couldn't wait to get back," she said, of tennis. "This is what I really want to do."

Is it, though? She challenges the long-held assumption that being the absolute best in one's sport is, well, a full-time job. She would prove that if one's athleticism is great enough, then old-school sporting ideals such as focus and complete dedication would be optional.

Tennis purists and old-schoolers are sure she is squandering her potential to be the best ever.

Freedom lovers say, you go, girl, at the idea of an independent young women shaping her own life, breaking rules.

I would lean in with the latter camp, and admire the attitude of wanting it all. It's a big world out there. I like that Serena can view a Wimbledon title, an upcoming voice-actor role in the new "SpongeBob" movie and the fact Miss New Jersey will wear one of her gowns in the Miss America pageant as thrills separate from one another.

And so she resumes her claim as tennis' best player.

And actively pursues acting roles. She already has been on Law & Order, in a Showtime movie and a made-for-TV film in which she plays a woman who has been missing for 20 years. (This was before her current role, playing a woman who has been missing from tennis for eight months.)

Oh, and the clothing line. Serena even helped design the Nike tennis dress she is wearing at the Nasdaq.

It looks like a dress Jane might have worn on her first date with George Jetson. Or a leftover raiment from Jane Fonda's Barbarella. The middle of the dress shines like polished chrome.

It is not my taste. Then again, that might be a compliment to the dress.

Presented with the idea most players could not divide their attention like this, Serena said:

"First and foremost, I am not most people. I am Serena."